Apr 122013

When he arrived in February, new Northern Districts chief executive Peter Roach didn’t expect to be overseeing a changing of the guard.

But the Australian now has to find a new coach for the Northern Knights and a new captain for the one-day side after the resignation of Grant Bradburn and the retirement of James Marshall.

But it’s not something that Roach – a former Australia under-19 representative and previously a manager of cricket operations for the Australian Cricketers’ Association – sees as a major hurdle.

“In many ways it’s a chance to refresh the group, which we will look at as a positive,” he said.

“I’ve got no feel for the quality of candidates out there but I think it’s an attractive position and we’ll be able to attract a very good coach that’ll be capable of carrying on the good work of Grant and produce some very good results.”

Marshall, 34, was the most prolific runscorer in the history of the association, skipper of the one-day side and an admired veteran presence. He’s the first of a stalwart group of Knights to give the game away, while Joseph Yovich, 36, Graeme Aldridge, 35, and Brent Arnel, 34, are players that the Knights will soon need to find replacements for.

Yet a group of promising young players, some of whom featured in the top side this season, has Roach sitting comfortably when addressing what lies ahead.

“From early February, we probably had more concerns than what we do now.

“Daryl Mitchell just had an outstanding season, Jono Hickey came in towards the end, Cam Fletcher joined our group. Losing Marshall is a big loss – he holds most of the records around here – but there always comes a time when you need a change.

“The work’s been put into the guys underneath for the baton to be passed, and we’ve also got a pretty established middle group with Daniel Flynn, Anton Devcich, Brad Wilson for example.

“They’ll need to carry a bit more of the load in James’ absence and I’m sure each of those guys will say there’s room for improvement in their games to help carry that load.”

The Knights went trophy-less last season over the three formats in the domestic competitions; they were partly victims of past successes as their playing ranks were thinned by promotion to the national side. Kane Williamson, Tim Southee, Trent Boult and BJ Watling are test regulars, as is Daniel Vettori when fit. Daniel Flynn has been in and out of the side in recent years, while Corey Anderson got a limited-overs call-up this season. That’s over half the 1st XI, putting pressure on the depth of talent.

But Roach said ND’s dual goals of promoting players into the Black Caps while winning domestic silverware will remain, and is still achievable.

“We see ourselves first and foremost as producers of international standard players, and our record is really strong in that regard – both male and female; we put a huge emphasis on that,” Roach said.

“But we believe in this competition that we can achieve domestic success as well. Whenever you do lose a huge chunk of players to the national programme it does have an effect – I think we’ve felt the effect of that in some of our cricket over the last couple of years. But you never want to keep the guys here when they’re ready to go up.”

While the Knights and the ever-improving Northern Spirit women’s team are the shop window for the association, they’re not Roach’s only concerns. The sheer geographical spread of the organisation – from Taupo to Gisborne in the southern regions to the Far North, omitting Auckland in between – makes administration an unwieldy task, while financing the operation is always a battle.

Like the five other major associations, ND relies heavily on funding from parent organisation New Zealand Cricket.

“They’re our most important partnership,” Roach admitted.

“We need them to be really strong so the money can flow down to the areas that we deliver on their behalf, which is the majority of our high performance and the majority of game development.

“What we can actually make money on is fairly restricted – that’s the model we work in. It works if there’s enough money coming down, it becomes an issue if there’s not.

“We still need to put out a first XI team to compete in the three domestic competitions and there’s expenses allocated to that and what’s left over is to deliver our outcomes.”

Roach outlined his major tasks away from on-field performances.

“We need to ensure that we’re a profitable organisation that can sustain a great high-performance programme and great development participation programmes,” he said.

“For us it’s connecting with the local community and trying to create partnerships that help us deliver those programmes as best we can. That’s our current challenge and that’s why we exist – to make cricket the number one and get as many kids and adults as we can playing and keep them playing.

“We also want to keep them engaged, so it’s important games here are well attended; that cricket is at the forefront of people’s minds.

“We want to put cricket on the back pages for the right reasons – and that’s for being a great participation sport, being a great environment for people to engage in the game – whether that’s watching on the telly or attending games at grounds or getting their kids to play or umpire or coaching.”

The domestic scene in recent years has been dominated by the priority given to Twenty20 cricket, in terms of scheduling and media coverage.

For fans of the longer forms of the game, the news isn’t great, as Roach doesn’t see that emphasis changing.

“Clearly the focus for the moment for crowds, for television is the HRV Cup Twenty20 competition,” he said.

“That can be a significant income stream both for them and us. But it also is the one people want to see.

“So the ongoing benefits of having a really good T20 competition is that you’re engaging people with cricket. Like they have in the other countries, the other formats have probably taken a fair bit of a back seat in terms of crowds and media.

“Those forms I guess are moving more towards development – we need to run these to make sure our test team is strong and our one-day team is strong – but it’s not a huge financial imperative that we promote them to get crowds.”

– © Fairfax NZ News

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